by Daryle Dickens
Today the iPhone is the supposed latest and greatest technology money can buy. One day it will be obsolete. People will no longer have a use for it and it will no longer have value. But in the hands of an artist like Aaron Ristau that obsolete technology could find new life and new value in the form of fine art. In his garage studio in Loveland, Aaron creates beautiful and functional sculptures out of discarded technology that is no longer valued by our culture. I sat down and talked to him while he was taking a break from preparing for the 16th Annual Loveland Sculpture Invitational.
ZAF: When did you start down this path?
Aaron: When I got out of high school, I really did not know what I wanted to do. I started off in electronics, but I really did not take a liking to the theoretical math aspect of electronics. I just really did not grasp it or enjoy it. So I started leaning towards mechanical interests. I was doing the electronics at a junior college and taking art classes at a university that my father had taught at before I was a student there. So the art professors there were like aunts and uncles to me, the jewelry and sculpture teachers specifically. I took my first and second level jewelry and sculpture classes from them. Just kind of as an aside, and I did really well. After stumbling through the electronics, I was like "Well I am good at this."
ZAF: And then what?
AR: I knew I would not finish at that university so I moved to a smaller cheaper university in Southwest Texas, out in the Big Bend region of Texas. I intentionally went out to a really small art department where I can be left to do what I wanted to do. I showed up with a lot of work already, and they were glad to have someone that would bring attention to the department and they just kind of let me do what I wanted to do, which is exactly what I wanted especially after having some sculpture and jewelry credits. I got there in June as a sophomore and did a majority of senior-level studio sculpture. You agree, early on to what you're going to accomplish and you're left to just do that over the semester. I minored in IT to have access to those labs to. One of the things I started to discover through all this, and through my work history is for me it is all about the process of another skill. Another way of building, so I really started to learn to get as many processes under my belt as possible.
ZAF: How do you learn these processes?
AR: I learn a lot from taking things apart, learning how things are built. My mission became to create a library of parts from disassembled everything. And I have a knack for remembering where the things came from. I can pick up a piece of my work and tell you where the parts came from five years down the line. Very kinetic learning, if I can hold it and grasp it then I can remember where it came from.
ZAF: Did you grow up around here?
AR: No not at all. I grew up in Abilene Texas.
ZAF: What do you for a living?
AR: I work in Longmont repairing surgical and noninvasive probes. The kind of probes they stick down your throat and search around your body. I do mechanical, electrical, and cosmetic repairs on equipment that people would rather have serviced then replaced.
ZAF: Does your family support your art?
AR: My father is an artist as well as some other members of my family past and present. So art was in the family. My brother has done graphic design professionally and he teaches multiple types of design courses. So yes, plenty of support from my family.
ZAF: Talk about your light sculptures.
AR: I have always had an interest in kinetic and light sculpture. To me engaging art should make you want to touch it. Everything I make has some kind of invite to interact, to be kinetic, to function. That is how the light idea started. When I started taking art classes I had to ask myself what was I going to do as an artist. That is when I made the goal of making 50 found object lights and it just went overboard. Now I am way over a hundred. And I have documented almost all of my light sculptures. I have other concepts though that have been in the background that will push my artistic ability beyond these. Even though these are so much fun.
ZAF: Where do you find the materials for your work?
AR: I have several sources. One of my favorite sources is corporate trash. As things get farmed out overseas corporations just dump their product lines. Much of that is really recent technology and some of America's finest, and it just gets thrown away. Amelia Caruso over at Waste Not recycle is my eyes and ears over there and will e-mail me when they have neat stuff. I'll also go to Colorado Iron and Metal. There is another good yard in Greeley, but I had a lot of stuff a lot of tonnage. My mission this year is to use stuff I have and not to take on more stuff.
ZAF: How do you get from the material to a finished piece?
AR: A lot of times. I make piles of pieces to get an overall shape and idea. It is not fine tuned yet, but there will be some key, something that will come in place and that will complete it. I used to sketch them out but now I mostly have the vision in my head.
ZAF: Have you found other sculptors like yourself?
AR: I have found some and I have them listed on my website. I strive to bring attention to all of us. There are some folks in this area, but not many. There are a couple of amazing guys down in Denver.
ZAF: Your stuff has a very science fiction feel to it, is that intentional?
AR: I was never really into that stuff. I thought it was cool but I never dwelled on it. Though it obviously influenced me, though it is not intentional.
ZAF: What percentage of the materials in your pieces are recycled?
AR: At least 75%. All the sockets and switches are new. Which can be hard to convey to people. To me it would be horrid if you bought a piece of fine art and it burned your house down. Each piece must be assembled electrically sound. I try hard to keep it simple so it is safe. Almost everything I do is 50 watts or less. Like nightlights.
ZAF: What are your goals as an artist?
AR: Right now I want to reconfigure my website, I have really nailed down my artist statement. I want to bring awareness to reuse and green ideas. I call it a triumph over obsolescence. I would like to do more figurative work and also get some of my work published as illustration or imagery for advertising. And another goal is more even more kinetic works, solar powered works, wind powered works, and some, I call em "man toys." Rolling ball sculptors and home audio tube amp reworks. I am trying to push myself conceptually. I want to take my work to the next level but still have fun.
Now go check out more of Aaron’s work at his web site www.aaronristau.com.